Women across the globe are being denied crucial feminine health resources because of their reported "virginity" status. Following a Vice World News report that covered five women who were denied access to internal vaginal exams due to sexual inactivity, The Jerusalem Post uncovered a pattern across the globe that limits female healthcare access.
In the initial report by Vice, five women shared their stories about being denied access to medical services deemed necessary and routine for women to sustain their health. Vaginal health screenings include (but are not limited to) internal exams such as pap smears, D&C procedures (taking sample tissue), and transvaginal ultrasounds are procedures that women regularly undergo to keep up with typical female health needs - regardless of active sexual activity.
When each of the women interviewed by Vice was denied service by medical professionals of both genders, they were seeking routine procedures. Regardless of a woman's sexually active status - regardless of if she has ever had relations - her body requires internal exams that are preventative and closely monitor the status of her health.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a pap smear is a process that helps screen for cervical cancer. A pelvic exam "often is part of a routine physical exam to find possible signs of ovarian cysts, sexually transmitted infections, uterine fibroids or early-stage cancer," the clinic says.
Though engaging in sexual activity may introduce different risks, denial of procedures for any reason may introduce risks to a woman's overall well-being. Women frequently experience abdominal pain, bleeding, and other uncomfortable sensations for any number of reasons - with the internal exam being the primary method of further finding answers associated
Sophie Hayward, 26, told Vice World News that she was denied basic medical care in her home nation of the United Kingdom for something so arbitrary; “I don't want to feel like I am forced to just lose my virginity to a random stranger just to get a test done which is beneficial to me,” she said.
According to guidance from the British Medical Ultrasound Society, “if a patient has not had penetrative sex, they are still entitled to be offered, and to accept, a TVS [trans vaginal ultrasound] in the same way that cervical screening is offered to all eligible patients.” Therefore, when these individuals were denied service for a standard medical procedure based on the idea that they might be uncomfortable with the sensations or discomfort associated with that given procedure, these women are denied access to critical testing that could tragically be a matter of life or death.
Virginity as a social construct
Sexual activity has nothing to do with it - so why would the choice to not engage be the grounds for denying medical care? Some doctors say it is a matter of withholding discomfort for the woman on the receiving end. However, it's far more than that.
"In some cases, a transvaginal ultrasound is appropriate for those who have never engaged in penetrative sexual activity. If a doctor thinks that a transvaginal ultrasound is not appropriate for a patient, they should clearly explain the reasons for that decision. In this conversation, it's really important that they keep in mind that gender, sex and sexuality are sensitive topics," an Israel-based registered nurse told The Post.
Ultimately - these women, and countless others across the globe, have been denied simple medical procedures for a doctor's fear that they might experience some discomfort.
In India, women who were unmarried were denied a transvaginal ultrasound (TVS) for fear that they would rupture their hymen. The hymen is a thin mucosal membrane surrounding the vagina.
In a culture that placed high pressure on virginity and marriage, many women received resistance from gynecologists and radiologists for what these doctors believed was a moral high ground - not a concern based on medical fact. If a woman was unmarried, it was a societal belief that they would still be a virgin if unmarried.
However, refusing these routine procedures comes with potential long-term damage. Though these procedures may be uncomfortable, they are also incredibly beneficial in helping a woman plan her medical needs.
Women may suffer from intense pains and even hospitalization for conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis. This can cause a woman to ultimately feel like her insides are falling out - and simple procedures such as a sonogram can help them better plan for how to approach the issue.
Huffington Post India reported that Adity Sen was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), she was 14 and struggled with incredibly painful periods.
"Over a decade later — in the course of which Sen had visited dozens of doctors and has had to undergo various tests — she was refused a trans-vaginal sonogram (TVS) in the Kolkata’s top hospitals because she wasn’t ‘married’. When this happened, the Hyderabad-based accountant was 29 and was tired of explaining that she had been sexually active so there was no reason why she should be denied the procedure. The sonogram, which provides a better view of the ovaries than a regular one, is essential for Sen’s treatment," the publication said.
Whether in India, the United Kingdom, Israel, or any other nation, doctors must be contingent on what is truly going on "under the hood" - suspected pride, discomfort, or social constructs cannot take the place of a woman's critical health needs.